Dragnet, the brainchild of Jack Webb, may very well be the most well-remembered, and the best, radio police drama series. From September, 1949 through February 1957, Dragnet's 30 minute shows, broadcast on NBC, brought to radio true police stories in a low-key, documentary style.
The origins of Dragnet can be traced to a semi-documentary film, "He Walked by Night" from 1948, in which Webb had a small role. Both employed the same Los Angeles Police Department technical adviser, used actual police cases and presented the case in "just the facts" manner that became a hallmark of Dragnet. It is interesting to note that Webb employed that format in other radio series, some pre-dating the film mentioned above.
Dragnet was a long running radio and television police procedural drama, about the cases of a dedicated Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Joe Friday, and his partners. The show takes its name from an actual police term, a Dragnet, meaning a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals or suspects. Dragnet was perhaps the most famous and influential police procedural drama in American media history. The series gave millions of Americans a feel for the boredom and drudgery, as well as the danger and heroism, of real life police work. Dragnet earned praise for improving the public opinion of police officers.
Actor and producer Jack Webb's aims in Dragnet were for realism and unpretentious acting. He achieved both goals and Dragnet remains a key influence on subsequent police dramas in many media. The shows cultural impact is demonstrated by the fact that even after five decades, elements of Dragnet are known to those who have never heard nor seen the program. The ominous four note introduction to the brass and tympani theme music, titled Danger Ahead, is instantly recognizable as well as the shows opening narration:
"Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent."
The original Dragnet starring Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday ran on radio from June 3rd, 1949 to February 26th, 1957; and on television from December 16th, 1951 to August 23rd, 1959, and from January 12th, 1967 to April 16th, 1970. All of these versions ran on NBC. There were two Dragnet feature films, a straight adaptation starring Jack Webb in 1954, and a comedy spoof in 1987. There were also television revivals, without Webb, in 1989 and 2003.
Dragnet debuted inauspiciously. The first several months were bumpy, as Webb and company worked out the program's format and eventually became comfortable with their characters. Friday was originally portrayed as more brash and forceful than his later usually relaxed demeanor. Gradually, Friday's deadpanned, fast-talking persona emerged, described by John Dunning as "a cop's cop: tough, but not hard; conservative, but caring". Friday's first partner was Sergeant Ben Romero, portrayed by Barton Yarborough, a long time radio actor
When Dragnet hit its stride, it became one of radio's top rated shows. Webb insisted on realism in every aspect of the show. The dialogue was clipped, understated, and sparse -- influenced by the hard-boiled school of crime fiction. Scripts were fast moving, but didn't seem rushed. Every aspect of police work was chronicled, step-by-step. From patrols and paperwork, to crime scene investigation, lab work and questioning witnesses or suspects. Webb was a stickler for accurate details, and Dragnet used many authentic touches, such as LAPD's actual radio call sign, KMA-367, and the names of many real department officials, such as Ray Pinker and Lee Jones of the Crime Lab, or Chief of Detectives, Thad Brown.
Two announcers were used. Episodes began with announcer George Fennemen intoning the series opening:
"The story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent."
Hal Gibney described the basic premise of the episode. For example, "Big Saint", from April 26th, 1951, begins with:
"You're a detective sergeant. You're assigned to auto theft detail. A well organized ring of car thieves begins operations in your city. It's one of the most puzzling cases you've ever encountered. Your job -- break it."
The story usually began with footsteps and a door closing, followed by Joe Friday intoning something like:
"Tuesday, February 12th. It was cold in Los Angeles. We were working the day watch out of Robbery Division. My partner's Ben Romero. The boss is Ed Backstrom, Chief of Detectives. My name's Friday."
Friday offered voice-over narration throughout the episodes, noting the time, date, and place of every scene as he and his partners went through their day investigating the crime. The events related in a given episode might occur in a few hours or might span a few months. At least one episode unfolded in real time, in "City Hall Bombing", from July 21st, 1949. Friday and Romero had less than 30 minutes to stop a man who was threatening to destroy the City Hall with a bomb. At the end of an episode, announcer Hal Gibney would relate the fate of the suspect. They were usually convicted of a crime, and sent to the state penitentiary or a state mental hospital. Murderers were often executed in the manner proscribed by law. Occasionally, police pursued the wrong suspect, and criminals sometimes avoided justice, or escaped, at least on the radio version of Dragnet.
Scripts tackled a number of topics, ranging from the thrilling (murders, missing persons, and armed robbery) to the mundane (check fraud and shoplifting) -- yet, Dragnet made them all interesting due to the fast moving plots and behind the scenes realism. In "The Garbage Chute", from December 15th, 1949, they even had a locked-room mystery. Though rather tame by modern standards, Dragnet, especially on the radio, handled controversial subjects, such as sex crimes and drug addiction, with unprecedented and even startling realism. The tone was usually serious, but there were moments of comic relief. Romero was something of a hypochondriac, and often seemed hen-pecked. Though Friday dated women, he usually dodged those who tried to set him up with marriage-minded dates.
Due in part to Webb's fondness for radio drama, Dragnet persisted on radio until 1957, as one of the last old time radio shows to give way to television's increasing popularity. In fact, the TV show would prove to be effectively a visual version of the radio show, as the style was virtually the same. The TV show could be listened to, without watching it, with no loss of understanding of the storyline.
NOTE: Updated Release! Version 3: Added numerous sound upgrades and alternative (AFRS or sponsored) versions of episodes (01-May-2013).
NOTE: Updated Release! Version 2.1: Added ARFS version of episode 194 "The Big Laugh", and removed erroneous episode 93 "The Big Trunk" and 94 "The Big Lover" (28-Nov-2009).
NOTE: Updated Release! Fixed Episode 301 "The Big Siege", added some AFRS episodes, and about a dozen other miscellaneous changes(19-Nov-2009).
From the Old Time Radio Researcher's Group. See "Note" Section below for more information on the OTRR.
It contains the most complete and accurate version of this series in the best sound possible at the time of creation. An updated version will be issued if more episodes or better sounding ones become available.
If you are interested in preserving old time radio, you may wish to join the Old Time Radio Researchers Group at Yahoo.
This is the Single Episode Page. The Certified Set includes extras not found here. It is located at OTRR Certified Set. This page is provided in case you want to sample the shows.
Note that in many cases, file names have been modified from the original OTRR names to conform to archive.org naming requirements.
Relax, listen, and enjoy!
OTRR Certified Accurate -- A series that is Certified Accurate indicates that all the episodes are properly identified and labeled but that the series does not contain all known extant episodes.
OTRR Certified Complete -- A series that is Certified Complete is the highest level of certification available under the OTRR Certified Standards. This certification level implies that all the files in the series are Certified Accurate but also indicates that the series is as complete as possible – it includes all extant episodes.
April 2, 2018 Subject:
Great Series, needs a disclaimer
Warning! This series may be dangerous to your health. Listening to this Radio Broadcast may influence you into smoking Chesterfield Cigarettes.
Seriously, great series, I really get a kick out of hearing the old commercials about the Chesterfield cigs and how "They are the only ones that have been proven to have no adverse effects on Ears, Nose or Throat" LMAO... No wonder they won't allow those commercials any longer...
October 20, 2017 Subject:
Hats off to whoever set this up!
What a great collection! Love the tv and radio episodes of the Jack Webb Dragnet show! Although I believe all the episodes are true accounts, I also realize they are spiced up a bit with some humor at times, but I appreciate that. Also, many of the gun fights seem to be added since I never hear of the resulting assault with a deadly weapon charges at the end of the show.
Thanks to all that put this together!
March 2, 2017 Subject:
Before Dragnet started, the Los Angeles Police Department's reputation was very low - high profile, unsolved crimes like the Black Dahlia and the murders of Georgette Bauerdorf and Jeanne French, the Flying Nurse, and accusations of large scale corruption, the LAPD needed something to put them in a better light. Dragnet was a great way to do just that. The high profile unsolved cases made the headlines in the Los Angeles and other newspapers while many other cases were being solved - all sorts of cases: drugs, murders, kidnapping, etc.
Apparently, creating one of the best known and written police procedural programs of Old Time Radio and early television was much easier than ridding the LAPD of the multiple levels of corruption.
June 22, 2016 Subject:
Nothing like "old radio drama"
First heard on radio in mid 1940's when I was a kid 10 years old. Great to play these back again. Thanks!!
August 31, 2015 Subject:
My 2015 Snow Shovelling Companion! mp3Purrfect!
Found treasure!! Thanks a million!
March 6, 2015 Subject:
surprised at how sharp it was
I expected it to be too corny but was really impressed by how good this series was, and I listened to the whole run. I'm so grateful that Dragnet was uploaded here because I truly enjoyed the whole series!
November 15, 2012 Subject:
In the Introduction...
It is prescribed, not proscribed.
November 28, 2009 Subject:
28-Nov-2009: Version 2.1 -- Removed the erroneous episode 093 "The Big Trunk" and 094 "The Big Lover"; added AFRS version of episode 194 "The Big Laugh".
19-Nov-2009: Version 2.0 -- Fixed "The Big Siege", plus added some AFRS episodes.
November 22, 2009 Subject:
The Big error
I e-mailed someone at OTRR quite some time ago, but this still hasn't been fixed. The episodes identified as 1951 shows "The Big Lover" and "The Big Trunk" are incorrectly identified. Both shows begin with Friday stating that his partner is Frank Smith. However, Friday didn't have a partner named Frank Smith in 1951. His smart until the last show of 1951 was Ben Romero, and he didn't have a partner named Frank Smith until 1952.
Keep in mind that the file Dragnet 55-05-24 (301) The Big Siege above is faulty and plays at chipmunk speed.
Which is okay for folks who like that!
November 23, 2007 Subject:
Nothing can be said about Dragnet that hasn't already been said
Dragnet, Gunsmoke, Jack Benny, Amos 'n' Andy. Four of the most respected, well liked, well received, and high rated series in old time radio. What they had was excellent story lines, story lines and scripts that were believable, continuity and character development (Lux Radio Theater, on the other hand, had stand-alone shows that didn't allow for character development), characters (even though Jack Benny and Amos 'n' Andy were comic characterizations) that people could relate to. Dragnet had excellent scripts and generally intense acting, the result of a line of radio shows that Jack Webb was involved in, ultimately transitioning successfully (as with the other three shows) to television with little change in format or character. If four different people each picked a different one of the four shows as the "best" of old time radio, I would have a hard time disagreeing; but, even if they didn't pick Dragnet as crossing the "best of OTR finish line" first, it would be a photo finish. As an aside, if you wanted to see a "different" Jack Webb, try to find episodes of his early radio show broadcast from San Francisco; it was along the lines of Steve Allen's radio and television shows, and showed his appreciation of jazz (highlighted in Pete Kelly's Blues).